Plastic is one of the indispensable commodity in our today's life and its usage has gradually been increasing. The range of plastic products are also varying in nature from kitchen to office. About 5000 companies, mostly small, are producing different types of plastic products meeting local demand and also contributing to exports, creating employment. It is seen that it accounts for 1.0 per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 1.50 per cent (direct and deemed) of the total exports.
Covid-19 led to rapid growth in use of plastic equipment including single-use plastic goods like masks and a number medical and personal protective equipment (MPPE). Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD) in cooperation with the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) is working for reviewing the plastic sector road map with a vision and a target that Bangladesh will be the 50th largest exporters of plastics from the current ranking of 89th which means that production of plastic will keep on increasing. Keeping all these in mind, it is time to concentrate on its effective use so that we can control the wastage, reduce its impact on environment and eventually support circular economy.
In case of waste management, this sector is much behind. It is seen from different sources that total annual Dhaka-wide Waste (Plastic & other) is around 1,825,000 ton (daily amount is 4,000-5,000 tons). About 6.5m ton plastic waste are thrown in land and water (2018 report).Total annual Dhaka-wide plastic waste, amounts to around 139,065 ton (daily around 381 ton). Share of recyclable plastic waste across Bangladesh is 36 per cent of the 800,200 tons. Only 8.0 per cent of the 381-ton plastic waste created in Dhaka every day is recycled and 62 per cent are dumped in the environment (Daily BanikBarta, June 13). Total amount of single-use plastic waste generated every year across the country is around 87,000 tons. The picture is really terrible needing immediate interventin.
In another note it is found that, since 1950, the world has created 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste, 91 per cent of which never recycled. World Economic Forum (WEF) expects plastic production to double by 2040. Annual population growth rate in Bangladesh is 1.1 per cent., urbanisation rate is 3.0 per cent. It is speculated by 2030, urban population will be greater than rural population. Per capita plastic consumption will be 30 kg from the present level of 9-10 kg while for Dhaka it is around 24kg. (Wasteconcern). Bangladesh ranked 10th in terms of mismanaged plastic waste in the world (2015).
In view of above situation, Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) can be a viable option to cater to the needs of waste management. EPR is a policy option that warrants plastic goods manufacturers or industries using plastic packaging to take up a share of the responsibility of post-consumer waste management. Responsibility can be physical / financial, producers can pay for, or engage in collection and management of waste.
EPR can reduce cost of waste management for municipalities and potentially reduce taxes required to fund municipal waste management, implementation of Polluter's pay Principle as defined in the Environment Conservation Act (ECA) can get a new shape then. It will reduce pressures on biodiversity and infrastructure, contribute better for waste collection workers and ensure sustainable design of product/packaging.
Department of Environment (DoE) drafted an SRO in 2018 to introduce EPR in Bangladesh, but could not finalise it yet. Manufacturers of food, drinks and agri-insecticides are responsible for their plastic packaging. As per the SRO, producers are to collect used packaging material by themselves or by some contracted third party. To ensure implementation of 100 per cent packaging collection target by 2025, producers need to register collected packaging and arrange for recycling or environment-friendly treatment. Also, producers are to submit plastic waste management plan during application for Environment Clearance Certificate (ECC) and submit information about recycling or treatment during renewal of the ECC. Punishable offence is included under ECA 1995, section 15(1).
In India they developed a guideline for EPR based on Plastic Waste Management Policy 2016. Now the polybag or multilayered packaging producers have to take licence from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). A website / portal has bee established to coordinate and govern the EPR process with all stakeholders. Producers need to submit plans to control these wastes to state pollution control boards for obtaining licence or renewal. There are urban local bodies (ULBs) for collection, segregation and sorting of waste, and producers need to report to these bodies.
Producers pay to an earmarked/escrow fund to build capacity of waste collection and management. The collected waste plastic could be forwarded for infrastructure, material recovery units, and so on. Producers Responsibility (PRO)-based model and plastic credit model is another process-- producers obtain plastic credits by paying into an industry-managed PRO, directly paying a recycler, or take-back transactions. The credit transfer transactions would be registered in the online portal.
Brands are now imposing recycled material requirement. Unilever Bangladesh has halved plastic packaging and recycle more than produced plastic by 2025, implementing a pilot project in Narayanganj. Similarly, Nestle Global goes for 100 per cent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. H&M Global, another brand company, plan to reduce plastic packaging by 25 per cent (2018 baseline) by 2025, replace single-use plastic packaging with reusable alternatives where possible, eliminate all problematic or unnecessary plastic, and ensure that at least 25 per cent of the plastic we use is from recycled content.
Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA) sought ban on import of scrap plastic in August 2020. Large companies such as-- PRAN Food, Abdul Monem and Bombay sweets produce 67 per cent of single-use plastics (ESDO, 2018).
There is now a need for an effective waste management policy for Bangladesh. It seems that there is no alternative but to go for EPR; fiscal incentives ( such as-- reduced tax and VAT) for producers who register in EPR programme is important. There should be incentives for use of recycled plastic. Advance disposal fees or higher tax to create pricing deterrent for products using mini-plastic bags, material taxes should be imposed on virgin materials, e.g., manufacture and import of virgin plastic in the form of resin. Tax incidence should reflect the waste management and recycling costs borne by municipalities and companies.
Some countries have introduced payback for plastic packs to encourage consumers to return those to collection depots and drop-off sites. The money for refunding to consumers can be raised by producers as well by creation of a government fund.
Concessional loans (e.g., GTF) for investments in recycling technology, PPP initiatives should be promoted for establishment of plastic incineration plants. Secure financing for various EPR related investments from government, development partners, GCF and other international financial facilities can be arranged. Plastic incineration plants or waste-to-energy plants should use best available techniques (BAT) or best environmental practices (BEP) defined in the Stockholm Convention (SC).
For RMG sector, plastic is a deemed export sector producing accessories. More than 80 per cent of the deemed exports are supplied to RMG, e.g., plastic hangers, buttons, clips, collar chips, packaging materials etc. In 2018, the plastic industry accounted for USD 900 million worth deemed export. Bangladesh used to export PVC bags and plastic waste. Recently export of these declined, mainly due to ban on plastic wastes import by China and India.
Recycling is required because it is non-biodegradable, endures in environment and decomposes into micro-plastic. Untreated waste gets attached to or ingested by human, animal or marine life. Cross-border plastic inflow from upper-riparian regions and abroad is another cause of concern. Water supply and sewerage systems can be blocked, river beds can be covered with thick sheets, blocking dredging etc. EPR is a policy working as a successful model in several countries, Bangladesh may opt for a good policy before the situation goes beyond control.
Ferdaus Ara Begum is CEO, BUILD-- a Public Private Dialogue platform that works for private sector development.